A report released Tuesday by the National Transportation Safety Board squarely blames Conrail for the November 2012 train derailment and chemical spill in South Jersey.

 

 

The agency's finding could strengthen the cases of hundreds who have filed civil lawsuits against the Philadelphia-based railroad company.

Attorney Mark Cuker, whose law firm represents residents and first-responders to the scene in Paulsboro, said the NTSB report certainly bolsters his cases, but added that it by no means secures victories.

"The NTSB does not decide the case for a jury, but I think it's a good indication of how a jury would likely decide the case since they'd be looking at the same evidence," said Cuker.

The report's conclusions cannot be used as evidence at trial, he said.

A Conrail representative declined comment.

More than 1,000 people filed state and federal lawsuits after four cars went off the tracks, releasing 20,000 thousand gallons of toxic gas into the air.

Many are seeking damages for health complications that have cropped up -- or may down the road -- from breathing in the vinyl chloride.

Cuker said depositions are expected to start this summer and last through October. Trials, though, aren't expected to start for at least another year.

Among the NTSB findings is that poorly trained Conrail employees ignored warnings not to cross a problematic swing bridge spanning Mantua Creek on Nov. 30, 2012.